After spending the last 2 years involved in the re-establishment and running of Project, I very rarely questioned why I was doing it. Not because i was mindly following the masses, but the whole thing just felt so right and important that it was almost a rhetorical question.
Having resigned as chair and reducing my involvement considerably, I’ve had time to think about what the whole thing meant and the wider implications having of my heart and souls invested in that space. After giving a guest lecture to 3rd year students about ‘life after art school’, i realised exactly why it was so important for me to be part of Project and for those that don’t know, or have never been part of an artist-run-initiative, here is why you give your life away for a couple of years.
Top 10 Reasons Why Getting Involved in an ARI Will Change Your Life.
1. It’s a crash course in nuts and bolts. no matter how much you think you know about how the australian art scene runs, who is doing what (or who), where all the money goes and why the arts really does get a raw deal, you don’t know it until you’re in the scene itself. filling in grant applications, preparing business plans, organising insurance – all of these things will chuck you in the deep end of the ‘industry’. and once you know these things, the sweet blanket of denial with ‘my work can just speak for itself’ will never feel comfortable again. the other aspect of the nuts and bolts is because you are part of an ARI, you go to other ARIs. like some form of solidarity, you check out who else is doing what. you have something in common now and this only adds depth to the whole experience. and you get to see some wicked shows there too.
2. you feel like you can change the world. once you’re involved, you suddenly have a bit of power. and this isn’t always a bad thing. you feel like you can begin to show the world that there are important things that people are saying and it’s important that they be said. you begin to realise that not being tied to government cash (or not much of it anyway) means that you have the power to open up the space for some incredibly amazing artwork. you begin to realise that as an artist, you can say what you need to and that it may make a difference some day. being in a regional area, and encouraging audiences to engage with a few shows that were almost mind-blowing and certainly so far from the beaches and frangipanis that people were used to was incredibly exciting! that’s the kind of stuff dreams are made of!
3. you start talking a new language. this bit partly relates to the nuts and bolts from above and partly relates to the one below, but you begin to realise that art isn’t always about ‘self expression’ (thank fuck for that) and you start to actually discuss work on a whole new level. you start discussing work in terms of context, execution, content, etc. now this may annoy the fuck out of a whole bunch of people, but it changed my life. i started to be able to think differently about contemporary and emerging art. i started to be able to actually engage with critical debate about work being created based on my own experience – real experience (not just based on a slides from a lecturer). this may seem pretty ordinary or even obvious, but had i been left to my own devices, just reading magazines (maybe), going to the occasional opening and maybe having a bitch about the art scene with friends, there is no way that my interaction with art would continue to be at a deeper and intellectual level.
4. it sorts out the good from the bad and downright ugly. having said all that, you realise that some artists take themselves way too seriously. seeing the range of shows, exhibitions and proposals that you do, your taste in artwork changes and you begin to actually see what good artwork looks like. again, some people may have this knowledge in their genes, but being straight out of art school, i really don’t know shit and it was only through seeing the crap coming through the gallery, seeing the great stuff, going to other ARIs and seeing top stuff and talking with others about it that i’ve come to hone my tastes and opinions. being involved in an ARI and the art scene in general (which, like i’ve said before, means actually going to other ARIs) also means that you begin to solidify your opinions. i’m generally an opinionated person, so maybe my friends will hate this change to my life, but i can now have an opinion and not have it swayed by someone who i think knows a lot about what’s going on in the scene. i still feel like i know squat, but what i do know is based on experience and practice and this makes for quite a nice sense of security. and this security about where you stand in relation to other artists, their work and what they’re investigating is incredibly important in being able to also create work that’s of value. i may not be the greatest artist in the world, but at least i know why now ‘cos i’ve seen a lot of crap work out there.
5. friends? what friends? actually, that’s not true. you make some very good friends being on the board of an ARI, or even volunteering! (go volunteers – we love you all!) and not just any kind of friends, but friends who have a similar interest in being artists, being involved and taking the initiative (pun intended). these are the kinds of friends who you can now share a studio with, go on a road trip with, share houses with, be in a group show with and get them to help install your show! these are very valuable kinds of friends indeed. these are the friends who will not raise an eyebrow when you say that you can’t come to the pub because you’re filling out a grant application, finishing off a work, installing a show or uploading your images to flickr. they’re also the same friends who, when you say ‘ i’m depressed after having my show’ or ‘i’m scared that my work will be crap’ will completely understand, do their best to give you a reality check and not flip you off with ‘it will be fine!’. in fact, they’ll probably help you finish off that tub of home-made icecream, or carton of homebrew.
6. you begin to have a public persona. when i got involved in project, i suddenly became ‘lauren from project’ and a bunch of people from other ARIs i only know as ‘liz from first draft’ or ‘simone from platform’. this may be a little annoying to some, but having that extra identifier changed my life. suddenly people recognised me based on what i was associated with and it opened doors. both for the gallery and for myself as an artist. it sounds incredibly egotistical, but hey, it’s the truth. suddenly i belonged to something, and when you belong to something, people find it much easier to put you into a category and remember who you are and why they’re talking to you. this helps. believe me.
7. when you want something done, give it to a busy person. once you start juggling the myriad of things that need juggling when running an artist-run-initiative, you become incredibly efficient. there are only so many hours in the day and the better you are at finding ways to fit everything in, the better it is for everyone. and the more efficient you become, the more you get done, so while i was writing grant apps, organising committee meetings, putting rent reduction submission papers in, answering enquiries on invitation design and sending out press releases, i also made time to create work for a solo show, set up this blog, work part-time, have a social life in there somewhere and still make sure my cat got fed. granted, living such a hectic lifestyle doesn’t last that long, but being able to manage it will change your life.
8. you begin to realise that 300gsm really does matter. i don’t care what anyone says, if an invitation to an exhibition is on shitty paper, it’s very rare that i give it a second look. this was enlightenment on satin art card! marketing matters and the more i saw invitations for shows, catalogues, etc i realised how important it was for the gallery to look professional, but also for my own stuff to look professional. you are judged on these things, whether you like it or not and the sooner you realise and accept it, the better it is for the gallery and for your practice.
9. you have a space to show your work. it’s not always guaranteed, but i don’t know many artist-run-spaces that don’t provide an opportunity for its directors to show at least once a year. it’s called compensation. ha ha! it’s also a great way to have a couple of shows up your sleeve very quickly, and depending on your cohorts, to show with some great artists to boot! bring on the expanded CV…
10. participation is the key to harmony. as an artist, you probably aren’t really about sitting back and expecting the world to owe you a dime, but getting involved in the art scene is as pro-active as a very pro-active thing. and in the arts, especially in Australia, although i suspect everywhere else as well, being pro-active is the quintessential asset artists have over, say, McDonald’s workers. and sticking your neck out, actually living your career, participating in the guts of it all is a fucking amazing way to live. you may burn out, you may get sick of the sight of a grant application, or spirit level, or the front door of the gallery, but there is no way that the kind of action you get from getting involved will ever leave you. from here on in, you will always give a shit about art. whether it be yours or others, it will matter to you.
For those that have done it before me, I hope you got all these things too and for those that haven’t done it, i hope i haven’t scarred you for life. trust me, it’s worth it!